"Marian's the villainous darkspawn, Bethany can be the damsel, and I'm the hero." Carver gave roles.

"I'm always the damsel," Bethany complained. "Can't I be someone else this time?"

"You want to be the villain?" Carver offered.

"No..."

"Then shh and hold your place, damsel."

"Some heroic gentleman you make." Bethany muttered.

"Carver, if Bethany wants to be the hero, let her." Marian ordered.

"What?" Carver protested. "No. She's not strong enough to be the hero. Besides, I'm not a girl. I can't be a damsel."

"Carver," Marian started in a warning tone.

"No," Carver shook his head resolutely. "It doesn't fit. You can't just change up positions like that."

Marian sighed. "I'll be the damsel, but let Bethany be the hero. You can be the villain for once, Carver."

"But-"

Marian gave him a look and Carver abruptly shut up, glaring and grumbling as Marian handed over her wooden play sword to the six year old. Marian gave Bethany a warm smile, then tapped Carver on the shoulder. "What're you waiting for? Take your post."

Carver grumbled under his breath. "Girl heroes..."

"Thanks, Sis!" Bethany almost had stars in her eyes, she was so happy.

Marian winked, shooing Bethany off. "Don't wander too far, Beth."

"I won't!" Bethany promised, hiking over to her random start position in the trees.

Bethany closed her eyes and counted to forty, anticipation and excitement growing by the second. I get to be the hero this time! I get to save my sister. She could hardly wait. Gripping her play sword tightly, Bethany opened her eyes...

to meet a startling new world in vibrant arrays of color. The ground where she'd once stood blazed red hot with energy and life. Her own hand glowed magnificently, brighter than the world's shades around her. All about, the trees, rodents, tiny insects, even rocks, to a lesser degree, glowed with the life of the surrounding area. Bethany breathed in deeply, startled and scared.

The flowing rivets of life began to move.

Bethany squeaked, fear growing as her pulse sped. The rivets moved, migrating towards her and Bethany felt a wellspring of... power run through her, revitalizing her body, like liquid energy in her veins. "M-Marian?" Bethany closed her eyes as the feeling took her, vertigo and power rushing through her like she was a conduit. The glow behind her eyes died and, when Bethany opened them, the world had returned to its normal color, but the feeling, the rush inside of her did not.

Her heart raced. Bethany whimpered, staggering with the sway of the energy until she was brought to her knees, clutching the wooden sword for all she was worth to stop the trembling. A building warmth spread through Bethany, so powerful and majestic, it took her breath away. She gasped, fighting to beat this rising feeling down, but she was not strong enough. It spread, encompassing her, traveling up her body and down her limbs till her every crevasse felt full to bursting of this otherworldly force. Bethany cried, tears streaming down her cheeks as the feeling moved, writhing inside of her until a forceful shove moved it down through her arms. Bethany's hands glowed.

A tear on her cheek froze in its path, little glistening ice chips marring her skin.

The sword she was holding encased in ice, the condition spreading like a fungal plague over the wood until it was completely covered. Bethany could barely breathe, and when she did, her breath came cold, layering the ice upon the frozen sword. Bethany released it in fright, hands dropping to the ground in horror, where the ice layered over shards of grass at her touch. Bethany gaped, picking up her hands from the ground, terrified beyond belief.

"Gotcha!" Carver jumped from the bushes, wooden blade held at the ready until he saw Bethany's glowing hands. "Whoa." Carver took a step back, eyes widening.

"Carver," Bethany choked, tears freezing from her eyes. "Help me."

Carver regained his wits and dropped his sword, rushing forward to assist. He reached for Bethany's wrist, but then yelped and pulled back as the cold spread to his fingers, crusting his shirt. "W-Wait," Carver stuttered. "I'm getting Marian." Without another word, he took off.

Bethany cowered back from her hands. "Maker, please." She begged, knowing nothing else to do. If only this whirling inside her would stop, she could start to think again and find help. The power coursing through her was so strong. "Stopit..."

"Bethany!"

"Marian." Bethany whimpered.

"Watch out!" Carver warned as Marian stooped for her. "She'll freeze you!"

"I can't," Bethany mewled. "I can't stop it. Marian- "

Marian reached for her wrists and cursed. "Tuck your hands in against my shirt," Marian ordered, lifting an arm under Bethany's legs and back to carry her bridal-style. "Hide them. Do not let anyone see."

"But-"

"Just do it!" Marian ordered, then softened her voice. "I can take it. It's okay."

Bethany hesitatingly obliged. Marian sucked in a fast breath at the extreme pass of cold that crisped her shirt and immediately sunk through. Bethany seemed guilt-stricken, built on her pain, but Marian stood quickly to assure her she could move. "Hide your face in my shirt," Marian commanded in a gentler tone. "And close your eyes." She wouldn't say so, but she didn't want Bethany's eyes to freeze over, if it was already affecting her tears. "Don't open them for a second until I say."

"Okay," Bethany mumbled, face buried in her shirt. Marian shivered as a new layer of ice built, crusting over her chest uncomfortably.

"Carver, look on ahead. We need the quietest route home possible."

"What's happening to her?" Carver asked, just as scared.

"It's magic." Marian shivered as the seeping cold spread. Her shirt was almost entirely frozen already. "We need dad. Go." Marian took off after Carver. "Shh," she whispered comforting assurances to Bethany. "I'm taking you to Dad. You're gonna be fine, Bethany. Just wait."

Carver jogged around the town, then headed back for another route. "Come on," he urged. "This way."

Marian's stomach was starting to freeze.

"It's inside of me," Bethany whimpered. "Marian..."

"Shh," Marian hiked her higher, drawing a cool freeze line up her stomach. "Almost there."

They rushed through the backstreets of Denerim, avoiding everyone they could. Marian caught some stares, but in these back allies, no one cared to investigate fully. Still, the eyes bore into Marian. Every pair, she was sure they could see, could tell what she held. It didn't help that the spell had frozen her shirt entirely now, or that the steps were getting harder, like ice in her veins. Marian worried over none of that, simply determined to get her sister to safety. Carver led on.

"We're here," Carver advised. "We're gonna need to make a break for it, through the market to get there. You ready?"

Marian grimaced.

They sprinted through market for their house. The cold burrowed up Marian's throat, choking her haggard. Carver made it to the door first and held it open as Marian zipped inside, then tumbled, refusing to release Bethany in her fall as the cold froze and blockaded her throat. Marian gasped for air that would not move. The door slammed behind them as Leandra's eyes widened in fright. "MALCOLM!"

Leandra raced forward and grabbed Bethany out from under her daughter, cradling Bethany. Carver knelt next to Marian and turned her on her back. Marian's face was turning blue; he couldn't tell whether it was from the cold or choking. Prying his fingers to the hem of her shirt, Carver ripped off the frozen sheet and clumsily started chest compressions, having no true experience of healing.

Malcolm arrived at the bottom of the stairs and raced to his daughters in the kitchen. Grabbing Bethany's blue-gleaming hands, his emitted a soft red glow, completely absorbing hers. Malcolm reached across and stopped his son before he could breathe for Marian. Instead, he placed three red-glowing fingers across her throat. It took a second, but then Marian choked, flipping on her side as a violent hacking spell took her with air rushing back.

"Bethany," Leandra cried, cradling her baby. "Oh, Bethany."

Malcolm breathed a sigh of relief, tending a sobbing Bethany and a weeping wife.

Carver ran and grabbed a glass of water and a blanket. Throwing the blanket over her shoulders, he gave her the water when she was ready, then helped her on closer to the fire.

One thing was certain: life in the Hawke household would never be the same again.

XXX

Leandra combed a hand through her sleeping daughter's hair fondly. She'd been unable to put Bethany down all day, heart racing with so much fear for her beauties.

"We can't stay." Malcolm ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Any number of people could have seen their run through the streets. I'm surprised the templars aren't knocking at our door yet." Malcolm sighed, gazing at his beautiful daughter. "I never wanted this. Not for her. Not for any of my children. If it hadn't been for Marian's bravery today..."

Watching from the shadows, Carver waited to be mentioned.

"I almost lost two of my children today." Leandra cradled Bethany, squeezing her gently. "My daughters."

"We have to move out, Leandra." Malcolm sighed, seating himself next to his wife. He rubbed her back with one hand soothingly. "First thing in the morning, before dawn. I won't let the templars take Bethany." Malcolm lifted a hand to Bethany's forehead, brushing her skin gently. "Marian's broken ribs will prevent her from riding well. Carver's too young, doesn't know how to handle a horse like his sister yet. I will take us through; no stops. They'll be looking for us."

I could take shifts just as much as Marian. Carver clenched his fist.

"Where will we go?" Leandra asked softly.

Malcolm sighed, "I don't know, Leandra. Away."

"I'm glad we have such strong daughters." Leandra murmured.

Carver gritted his teeth and left.

"And a son," Malcolm added, "Who can react to save his sisters."

"Yes," Leandra agreed. "Maker bless all my children."

Stomping upstairs, Carver cast a nasty glare to his bedridden sister, tempted to press on her sore stomach. "Bitch." Tears blurring his eyes, Carver climbed into bed on the opposite end of the room and covered himself. "I'll show them." Carver sniffled, burying his face. I'll show them all.

XXX

"It's a precision of elements," Malcom instructed. "You draw each with a balance to keep your current spell from imploding. If I'm casting an ice charm, for example," Malcom directed his staff; the magic stone crafted into the end glowed blue. "Ice is what I'm summoning, but underneath my spell, I've also called forth fire, wind, and earth to control and counterbalance the water molecules I'm freezing to the effect. Each lesser element is summoned with the spell I'm casting.

It's the Mage's job to monitor and steady the flux of conflicting elements. Too much of an element not the one you've summoned," Malcom demonstrated, releasing his ice spell, then allowing fire to grow too strong. The ice traveled halfway across the clearing, then gleamed with the heat and exploded into a thousand tiny fragments that spiraled out. Bethany winced as they shot at them, but Malcom effortlessly constructed a shield before they could hit. They bounced harmlessly away. "Will fail the spell, often dangerously."

"These are just the core elements," Malcom specified. "Magic branches further into spirit, arcane, creation, blood and field magics, among others, but these are your core elementals."

Malcom smiled down at his daughter. He bent to a knee, getting eyelevel with her, and held out his staff. "Try it, Beth."

"But..."

"You can do it." Malcom encouraged, "I'm right here." Malcom lifted the staff again.

Bethany took the staff, slow to act. Malcom nodded and rubbed her back. Closing her eyes, she concentrated, feeling the life of the world flow through her as she manipulated that energy, forming a solid clot in her mind's eye before she opened her eyes, staff glowing. Following her father's direction, Bethany called on the elements to that raw power she held- and almost faltered at the strength of them all rising at once. Battling back all but fire, which was by far the most powerful, Bethany struggled to maintain the homeostasis levels as she simultaneously condensed heat particles to the hot energies she'd gathered. The tip of her staff gleamed red hot.

A steady stream of flame poured out from the tip of the staff, scorching out a fiery blaze over the clearing for a duration of eight seconds.

The fire died out with a heavy exhale as Bethany slumped, leaning on the cool wood for support.

"You did it!" Clapping rang out somewhere to her left a few seconds before arms encircled her, scooping her into a hug. "My girl, you did it." Malcom squeezed her. Bethany rested against him in the embrace.

"Way to go, Beth!" Malcom set his daughter down to receive the compliments of his eldest. "That was amazing," Marian hugged her from the side. "You were incredible. The stream was so perfect, it didn't waver once! Nice job, Sis."

Carver came up behind Marian, but made no move to hug Bethany. He grumbled. "At least you didn't blow up the clearing."

Bethany blushed bright red.

Marian hit her younger brother in the stomach softly. "Stop that." She shook her head, turning back to her sister. "Ignore him. You were great, Bethany. We're really proud."

"Thanks, Sis." Bethany smiled, tentative.

Malcom ruffled her hair. "You've done well, honey. This may be much easier than I feared." He bent to kiss the top of her head. "Your mother will want to hear about this."

"Can we cut the kum-bi-yas?" Carver interrupted, tapping Marian's leg with his unsheathed shortsword. "Let's spar, sister. I want to beat you with your new sword." Marian unsheathed her greater, two-handed blade, a gift she'd received for her thirteenth birthday just days ago.

"Okay, Carver." Marian agreed. "Let's spar."

Swords clashed moments later.

Bethany watched from the sidelines with her father as Carver sprung back, surprised at the force in which his sister and constant competitor could wield the heavy weapon. They danced around each other in a half circle before Carver dashed in again, catching her heavy sword with his shortblade in the middle, where they pushed their steel for dominance.

Bethany watched Carver waver, brow beaded with sweat, eyes narrowed as he fought Marian's great force. Marian's stronger. Bethany realized, seeing Carver almost imperceptibly slide back. If they stayed locked like that, she was going to win. Carver needed a different tactic.

Carver wavered again, but surprisingly, Marian let up. Pulling back her blade, she ducked under Carver's impending steel and twirled to clash their weapons, at a much slower speed than Bethany knew her sister capable of. Bethany frowned, confused, then worried when she saw Marian take the defensive. Even with all his openings and the greater length of her dual-handed sword, Marian played defense, blocking Carver's moves.

It's almost like... Bethany tapped her father's leg, watching the combatants. "Dad?"

"Hmm?"

"Is Marian letting Carver win?"

Malcom looked to his seven year old, surprise taking his features. "Perceptive, Bethany." Malcom gazed back to his fighting children. "She's being a sportly sister, yes."

"Oh," Bethany watched them, seeing Marian take a smart hit from the pommel of Carver's sword for letting him through. She watched her brother gleefully kick out Marian's legs from under her. Marian didn't move, though Bethany knew she could. "Isn't that detrimental to his training?"

"If he was older, yes." Malcom shook his head, watching Carver hold his short sword to her throat. Marian held out her weapon and dropped the blade. "But Carver's just a young thing. Your sister's just looking out for his feelings, fragile as we know they are."

Bethany found her father smiling and giggled at the jest. In front of them, Carver scooped up Marian's blade in victory, neglecting even to help Marian up in wake of his win.

XXX

"I really wish you wouldn't cut your sister's hair, Bethany." Leandra frowned as Bethany continued to snip her firstborn's already-short hair.

"I want it cut," Hawke explained. "It's getting too long at the ends again."

"It's almost as short as Carver's." Leandra leaned against the door frame as her children ignored her; Bethany continued to work.

"I think it looks good on her," Bethany put in. "I think it fits her."

"It's boyish," Leandra sighed. "I've raised a tomboy firstborn; what will the other mothers say of me?"

"Not that we stay in one place long enough for the other mothers to form opinions," Carver interjected nastily. Bethany paused in her clippings, eyes lowering in guilt as Carver brushed past to grab his razor.

"Then Mother has nothing to worry about, does she?" Hawke interjected into the quiet wake of Carver's comment. Leandra sighed again heavily. "Besides," Hawke added. "Petra likes it that way."

"Petra?" Leandra frowned. "Who's Petra?"

"She's our friend." Bethany stood on tip-toes to clip at the top of Hawke's head. "The redhead, Mom. You met her mother at the river the other day."

"Sleslie's daughter?" Bethany nodded. "I seem to remember seeing her daughter vaguely. That pretty little girl?"

"Yeah!" Hawke agreed enthusiastically. "That's her, Mom. She's nice, isn't she?"

"Her mother spoke of her as if she were a dear," Leandra confirmed.

Hawke grinned. "I'm gonna hike west with her up to Dragon's Peak today. We wanna try to climb it. I bet her I could beat her to the top."

"Why couldn't the Maker bless me with scholars, instead of adventurous tomboys." Leandra lamented. "You best take care of Bethany while you're racing up this mountain, Marian."

"I'm not going, Mom." Bethany corrected. "Marian can take the credit. I'm gonna stay home, do our laundry, and maybe read."

"You're going alone? With this girl I barely know?" Leandra's lips pursed. "I'm not sure I like that."

"I'm fourteen, Mom." Marian waved off. "I can handle it."

4 Hours Later

"I can't believe you beat me." Marian repeated, scratching her neck.

"I found a shortcut." Petra smiled.

"Really?" Marian glanced around their small plateau. "Where?"

Petra's eyes sparkled. "A lady never tells." Hurrying back over to Marian, she took the other girl's wrist. "Come on. The view up here is amazing."

Marian followed along to the edge of the cliff where they both seated themselves to gaze out. Marian glanced back down, chuckling to see Carver partway down the mountain. "Need help, brother?"

"I'm fine," Carver echoed, followed with grumbling about why he had to come. Marian grinned, satisfied as she gazed out at the small, far world below.

Warm digits traced over the back of her hand. Marian glanced over to see Petra's fingers dancing across her skin. She lifted her hand and Petra's palm found hers, fingers twining between hers, but when she looked at her, Petra was gazing out over the landscape. "Sure is beautiful up here," Petra commented, squeezing her hand.

"Yeah," Hawke agreed, eyes never leaving her. "It is."

She blushed a little when Petra glanced her way, eyes averting from her friend, but Petra just smiled warmly and scooted closer, drawing Marian over near enough to bring her younger friend's head to her shoulder. Petra squeezed her hand again reassuringly as Marian leaned her head to rest.

"Thanks for coming, Petra."

"To spend time with you?" Petra smiled. "It's never a chore."

It all felt right.